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Bats and Burning

As I watched the sunset over the ocean, a long line of high flying birds approaches out of the setting sun. They are large, raven size or larger, black and flying with an unusual beat of their wings. As they near the beach where I sit they drop in altitude and head for a mango grove just behind me. As they fly over my head I realize that they are not birds at all but bats. There are hundreds of them and I can hear them landing in the mango trees. I am in the small town of Quezon, Palawan, on the west coast of the long island. While it is a small town of about five thousand it is the largest town on the entire west coast of Palawan, an island nearly three hundred miles long with four times the shoreline of California. The island province of Palawan is the least populated province of the Philippines. I am taking a break from my efforts to reforest an area in Tagbarungis, on the other coast.

The area of Tagbarungis is populated by people who acquired “rights” from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under a plan administered by the Department of Agrarian Reform. The goal is to allow families to gain land of their own to farm. If they use the land well they can eventually get title to it. DENR and DAR insist on improvement but not necessarily production, they like reforestry. Many rights holders are of a dependent sort and are only “squatting” on the land. The rights holder I am working with is dedicated to improving the land and is innovative, energetic and steadfast. She makes our potting soil, seedling bags from banana leaf and clears brush with a bolo for hours at a time. She has convinced me that burning is, indeed, a rational approach to clearing and reforestry if is done carefully and mindfully. There are biting insects with bite the worker, insects that eat the seedlings and snakes, spiders and scorpions that can kill in seconds here. Burning is also the way to remove stumps as I am just recovering from injuries sustained when I tried to dig them up!

The land in Tagbarungis will be reforested with coconut, narra, papaya, mangis and other native trees of the Philippines.

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